Mike Power owns and runs Neuxpower, the company behind the popular compression software NXPowerLite, WeCompress, and now Slidewise, a PowerPoint font and media add-in. He has been running Neuxpower for more than 20 years, which makes him feel a tiny bit old. Although he generally has a company to run, he loves nothing more than getting stuck into designing software. He’s particularly fussy (some might say meticulous) about ensuring that Neuxpower retains a focus on simple, unfussy software that just gets the job done.
In this conversation, Mike talks about the new NXPowerLite Desktop 9.
Mike, NXPowerLite Desktop 9 is the newest version of your file compression software. After releasing so many versions, it is amazing that you have come up with stellar new features. Can you tell us more about these features?
Mike: Thanks, Geetesh. With so many people using the software these days it’s become trickier to keep improving it for some people without accidentally making it worse for others. We always involve customers but there’s also a fair bit of internal design work to try and meet the requirements we uncover in a way that improves things for everyone.
We are also very keen to avoid swamping the software with loosely connected features that make the product more complicated and divert from its main purpose. When we set out to design version 9 of NXPowerLite, we had two main areas of focus:
- Improve its core purpose – make it compress more files and compress them better.
- Make the user experience more streamlined – by removing points of friction and/or enabling ways to use the tool that more accurately fit people’s workflows.
We have been fortunate to be able to draw upon some very helpful customers, and now also wecompress.com our free online file compressor, to make sure we focused on the changes that would add the most value.
For a short period of time, we enabled a feature on WeCompress that would ask people who had files that didn’t compress as much as we’d expect if they would be happy to share the file with us. As there are now over 500k people using the service every month this very quickly generated a large pool of files that had content in them that NXPowerLite was not compressing.
From this, we were able to diagnose the issues and rank them according to how big an impact fixing them was likely to have. This became our shortlist for improvements to the compression engine. A couple of improvements that came out of this were:
- Embedded charts were by far the most common reason for large PowerPoint files in particular not compressing. Version 9 can now remove the embedded Excel file leaving the chart behind. We have example files of 100 MB or more that didn’t previously reduce, now compressing to just a few hundred KB.
- We also saw a huge volume of files that had embedded PNG images, so we’ve added the ability to reduce the color depth of PNG images inserted into Office files. This is a great way to significantly reduce the size of these images without visibly changing them.
Identifying these types of improvements without WeCompress would have been pretty much impossible.
Geetesh: How many of these new features have resulted from user feedback? Do share some thoughts.
Mike: In terms of direct user feedback, we did also email all customers asking them to share their workflow issues with us. We asked them to identify anything that NXPowerLite was doing, or not doing, that added friction or prevented them from getting things done. This generated some fantastic targeted issues for which we were able to design solutions.
My personal favorite was extending the option to choose settings when compressing files from Explorer. We had a number of customers say the inability to do this prevented them from being able to use the feature at all, because they needed to adjust settings frequently, depending on the job at hand. This integrated really nicely with storing multiple frequently used folders, making what would have been a fairly painful process before, really slick now.
We also had a customer with a compelling story about why they wanted to be able to occasionally turn off the conversion to JPEG in Office files, which can often reduce images significantly. They created templates that were used by many people in their organization and some of those users would have PowerPoint’s in-built compress pictures feature enabled. If the images they added were in JPEG format then as the files were passed around they would become potentially more and more degraded. PNG images tend to resist this degradation much better. We simply added a checkbox to enable or disable the conversion to JPEG. On by default, it’s now possible for users to disable this if they have a specific requirement to.
Finally, I’m pretty sure one change that was eagerly received was the addition of a “Don’t show this again” checkbox on the replace original files warning. When choosing to replace files without creating a backup, users are warned that their original will no longer be available. However, we’d heard from quite a few people that not being able to disable this warning was a massive point of friction after they’d seen it the first few times.
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